By KURT MCVEY December, 2018
Nat Girsberger’s latest solo art exhibition, Close Your Eyes, up through January 6th at The Storefront Project on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is a worthy visual meditation to carry our species into 2019 and hopefully beyond. Worthy, just to start, by posing an eternal question, one caught at the present nexus of admirably strained Quantum mechanics and many millennia worth of mysticism: What’s beyond? Thankfully, profoundly, and only somewhat surprisingly, Nat also packages and delivers the answer within her titular prompt.
Girsberger, 26, is a certified yoga instructor and NYU grad. She has an art studio in Bed-Stuy and handles production design for films when she isn’t making her “retro-futurist” collage works. But with Close Your Eyes, she isn’t only talking about finding peace and quiet within one’s own mental theatre, playing out safely behind curtained off eyelids during a hectic, waking life; she’s showing you just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Just a few slow-moving days away from another New Year and there are still some subjects, some talking points, for various reasons-the complexity, the bureaucracy, the frustratingly experiential nature, the intensity-that are taboo or totally off limits, at least in mainstream media. So preternaturally wise artists like Girsberger take you by the hand and ease you in with a “hiding in plain sight” title and a smorgasbord of recycled pop-psychedelic imagery (created by untold human hands), culled, cut and composed from decades of books and magazines, framed and splayed out in a white box salon narrative, all functioning as a gentle simulacra and simulation of a much more challenging and therefore, rewarding experience.
And what “experience” is this? A unique (forgotten [reawakened] in the West) right of passage caught somewhere between birth and death and for many-the living can only assume if they cannot remember-potentially as transformative. But again, to speak openly of the full parameters of this experience in late 2018 could ruffle some feathers, so one should probably just point to the tiny pine cone-shaped endocrine gland in the center of our brains and humbly mention its likely role in endogenously producing a particular tryptamine molecule that may very well be the most powerful entheogen on Earth.
Girsberger’s title, Close your eyes, like a lot of esoteric collage, owes a large debt to the Swiss physician, psychologist, and-don’t call him an artist-Carl Jung, but it also explores the philosophical and scientific stalemate currently faced by great thinkers like Oxford’s Sir Roger Penrose, who shared the Wolf Prize in physics with the late Stephen Hawking and might now be the leading, living academic attempting to correlate Quantum mechanics with human consciousness (microtubules anyone?).
As we barrel towards the seemingly inevitable biomechanical singularity, we’ve yet to fully comprehend and explain the nature of organic consciousness and simultaneously, what the hell is going on over on the other side of a black hole. As Girsberger sees it, the same answer to both questions might lie within, and within again-Ad infinitum.
At a certain (literal) point, let’s say the collapsing epicenter of a black hole, math and all its simple and yet complicated powers reaches a singularity point, an event horizon where the rules as we perceive them are rendered obsolete. Our tools and systems cease to serve us. Such is equally the case when trying to articulate a profound “inner” experience, especially one involving the aforementioned pineal and playing out post “break-down” and “break-through,” a duel metaphysical and physiological phenomenon concerning the brain’s ability (with the assistance of a fully functioning body) to trigger, facilitate and transmit (however briefly) an extra-dimensional experience; an internal (cerebral) Big Bang rapidly expanding and contracting in hyperspace as the excess molecule gets consumed in the brain, which remains functioning at a higher level in real space time (though some regions may actually shut down [the VLPO in the Hypothalamus for instance] as others are activated). Such experiences, which could potentially be induced by concentrated and highly controlled breathing (check out the techniques of Wim Hof) and not necessarily by using what the FDA would consider to be a Schedule 1 drug, could be considered more of a time space event or an OBE as opposed to just a trip.
One could further posit, that our brain, via the aggressively activated, amplified pineal, is capable of simulating (the micro/macro) event horizon/singularity moment, transporting (or transmitting) a not exactly-disembodied “astral” self to an exponential, extra-dimensional anti-matter realm, perhaps something vastly similar to the non-material “inner” or “shadow-verse” (inverse) present on the other side of a black hole and what we consider to be our known universe, one where standard Quantum mechanics and general relativity still make sense to us, or to a handful of serious Quantum physicists at least.
This isn’t to say this “alternate” or inner-verse is even that: alternate. In fact, it would make sense that the equation or physics-based algorithm of earthly laws which seems to govern life and other scientific concepts on this space rock and in this perceivable dimension; a system extending outwards for trillions of light-years and beyond, is in constant interplay with a sort of pervasive, anti-matter realm, one that we can’t normally perceive when our brains are operating on the everyday, carbon-based, stock human setting.
This concept should not be viewed through a “religious” lens or a stale “spiritual” prism or in a well past “new age” context, but via the obvious, urgent and inevitable collision of shamanism and modern science. The millennial idea of “cord cutting,” for instance, mirrors our biological brain’s desire for a more diverse, open sourced multi-verse of “networks” (perceivable dimensions) as it were, especially as the politically and economically corrupt social media sphere becomes less an expression of global interconnectedness and more of a greed-based, time, energy and data harvesting system.
Wi-Fi (though its EMP has been hypothesized to disrupt the pineal and its ability to regulate melatonin levels) might be another technological precursor in establishing a context through which we can comprehend and utilize invisible energy and data systems. Satellite-based, cellular data transference, could also be laying the circuital groundwork (pathways, models, systems) for the non-physical, non-verbal transference of consciousness as matter (data).
The current understanding seems to be that advanced organisms-us, right now-are racing towards the creation of AI as something of a replacement (companion seems naive and generous), but perhaps technology (just another phase in human evolution) will instead lead us back towards our ideal, transcendent biological selves. Despite our reliance on robots, the Internet and smart phones, we shouldn’t concede our biological autonomy so easily, or jump from the current bio-evolutionary narrative in lieu of the rapid tech curve.
In Scientific American (February, 2008) Neurologist Barry Gordon described the “Ten Percent” myth as false (the idea that we only use a small part of our brains), adding, "we use virtually every part of the brain, and that (most of) the brain is active almost all the time." This isn’t to say we’ve fully come to terms with its capabilities, let alone the fundamental nature of consciousness itself, but isn’t it time to fully explore what these things can really do? Shouldn’t 2019, at its core, be about surmounting this hurdle?
This is why art, like great literature, is a valuable tool for furthering scientific discovery. It pushes the theoretical envelope by way of a curious, courageous and conscious approach to life. We should begin, immediately and earnestly, to expand the spectrum or explore an entirely new paradigm of thought regarding the nature of human perception and the objective vs. subjective nature of “reality” and the prospect of a larger, truly multi-dimensional existence. Or we can keep scrolling, fighting, and buying more shit.
But back to the space where aesthetics meet content, because here’s the thing, when you have this transformative, pineal-based breakthrough (the first few, open eyed moments [Close your eyes] simulate the parabolic obliteration of our multi-dimensional reality-light, gravity, time, matter, etc.), and especially when you interact with and are capable of “bringing back,” let’s call it, “data,” afterwards, you still have to go about your earthly business. You still have to find something to do, something to say.
The most interesting young artists right now are the unpretentious neo-prophets grappling with this subject matter because they’ve lived it; experienced it: the Indigo Children of the Age of Aquarius, to put it in super cheesy terms. Girberger’s Close your eyes is a youthful, late-Millennial, Instagram-friendly invitation to a personal and collective cosmic matriculation. Unless she gets censored by the app. And she has. And within this case study lies a fascinating socio-political idiosyncrasy, particularly in America.
“Sun and Rising,” (2018) a 20x30” limited edition digital print, features a woman of rich color (a deep brown), separating and expanding into uniquely colorful “stages” or phases along a spiritually transcendent event and one moving noticeably away from the body. You could also say the source image/model, a “black woman,” is “topless.” The image was removed from Instagram for violating the app’s community guidelines regarding nudity and pornography. Whether online or in the gallery (a print of the image hangs on the North wall of The Storefront Project’s vestibule, beside the title vinyl), the image is teasing out and testing our various cultural hang ups regarding a rather obvious existential metamorphosis regarding women’s bodies and how they’re perceived across multiple dimensions, not just intersectional socio-political talking points regarding race and gender. Nat’s image shows the unbound human soul, a fresh articulation of “Afro-futurist” tropes, leaving the nude, othered, gendered, sexualized, fetishized body (and the nefarious trappings of previous centuries) and entering a higher state of consciousness. The Internet still sees nipples. Others might see cultural appropriation.
Nat, however, would rather speak to the metaphysical implications of what’s being shown in the piece, specifically the koshas, “Sheaths,” or five layers of being according to Vedantic philosophy. She’s also happy to talk to you about Prana, the all-permeating life force referenced in wider Hindu philosophy. Though yoga as a practice has recently been embroiled in the cultural appropriation meets white privilege conversation, much like the Western exploration of medicinal psychedelics in South America, for instance, at a deeply experiential level, these archetypal musings concerning chakras, koshas or in some instances, anthropomorphic avatars, archetypes or “entities,” when enough layers are peeled away, these symbols present themselves as universal truisms, visible to what could be called the “Third Eye.” In 2019, we must be careful not to confuse true empathy (a deeper, higher vision) with appropriation and similarly, spiritual repatriation with neo-colonialism, unless the warning signs of cultural violence present themselves clearly.
In the deliberately fun, playful and accessible Close your eyes, Girsberger addresses the Ouroboros-like interplay between the archetype and the symbol. Her use of collage, much like dreams, is an effective tool to make sense of the past, present and future. Imagery and ideas from the past resurface through a collective unconscious, reconcile and reformulate in the present, inviting future deconstruction, construction-Ad infinitum.
Here is a young Swiss-woman, operating primarily in America, rebooting Jung’s “inner world” and living Joseph Campbell’s heroic journey, while silently advocating for a Terrence McKenna-approved heroic dose-of and for the masses-sooner rather than later.
“I think consciousness is constantly evolving and changing and we have to put in the work to see a change we want to see,” says Girsberger, buoyant, bubbly, and smiling, though at times as grave, sensitive and disconcerting as an ancient alchemist; a Millennial condition perhaps. After a pause, the smile returns, the sentence, completed. “…But there’s goodness at the core of it and that will always win. Is that very cheesy?” WM
Kurt McVey is a writer based in New York City.
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